Ontogeny of microhabitat use and two-step recruitment in a specialist reef fish, the Browncheek Blenny (Chaenopsidae)
Hastings, P. A. | Galland, G. R.
Ecological specialization is common on coral reefs and almost certainly contributes to the high diversity of fishes and invertebrates associated with reefs. Here, the recruitment pathway of an endemic Gulf of California fish, the Browncheek Blenny, Acanthemblemaria crockeri (Teleostei: Chaenopsidae), which specializes as an adult on vacant invertebrate tests or tubes, is reported. Like most reef fishes, Browncheek Blennies have a planktonic larval stage that leaves the reef and later settles on suitable habitat as a fully developed juvenile. These blennies follow a clear, “two-step” recruitment pathway, however, and do not reside in invertebrate tests until reaching an adult body size. Individual juveniles and adults were observed for 3 min intervals in order to develop average time budgets for this species. Members of both sexes and all post-settlement life-history stages were included in the analysis. The difference in habitat use by post-settlement juveniles and adults is striking; the average juvenile spends none of its time inside a test, and the average large adult spends all of its time inside a test. Using data on intermediate-sized individuals, the behavioral change associated with invading a test was determined to be size-cued, and it occurs between 20 and 30 mm standard length. Changes in feeding and predator avoidance behaviors are also associated with the ontogenetic shift from life in the open to life in a shelter. Addition of artificial shelters demonstrated the essential role of access to this specialized resource in the population regulation of adults but not juveniles of these blennies.Show more [+] Less [-]